Have Yourself a Merry Sustainable Christmas (2020)

A Sustainable Merry Christmas

Okay, I’ve given up and am posting a Christmas article in October! Such madness, but this is definitely a mad year, so I’m going with it.

Christmas is the most damaging time of the year environmentally, what with all the additional journeys taken (less than usual this year maybe!), food wasted and extra consumption. It’s ironic that one of the most joyous times of the year is threatening the existence of humans on this planet – but we can change that and here are some ideas on how to go about doing so.

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Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

After years of finding ‘thoughtful’ presents at the back of recipients’ wardrobes and cupboards I called a halt to gift giving. Now I only give gifts to my kids and godchildren. It’s the best sustainable decision I have ever made. I’ve tonnes more time and money and because my relatives and friends don’t have to buy me gifts they’re the same. It’s a win, win.

If that’s all a bit too bah humbug for you, that’s fine. We’re all different. If you’d like to still buy gifts but want to avoid trashing the planet while you do it then here are a few suggestions

  • buy experiences over stuff
  • buy second-hand over new. Buying second-hand prevents more carbon being put into the atmosphere thereby slowing down climate change.
  • buy consumable like soaps or food
  • buy from a company that is working to help save our planet. You’ll find a list of Sustainable Ethical Retailers on the website.
  • buy a sustainably made products. You’ll find a list of suggestions in my Sustainable Christmas Gift guides from 2019, and 2018 and another 2017. (I’ve checked all the link and all but the workshops are still current)
  • Give vouchers over items. The most wasteful gift is the one that’s not wanted. Unfortunately most of the vouchers available today are plastic. I always ask if they can provide digital or paper based one instead. Even if they can’t, asking the question might make them think about bringing one in.
  • I donate to charity instead of buying gifts. You don’t have to but it’s a lovely way of ‘giving’ something to someone AND making the world a better place.

Santa & Toys
I’ve found that once kids get past a certain age it’s very hard to influence what they ask from Santa. We do have a budget for Santa’s gifts. We explain that this is because we pay Santa for the toys he brings, so that he is able to give toys to kids in need. Even though we put a budget on what our kids get it’s hard to prevent mass-produced, battery operated, lumps of fragile plastic crap entering our house on the 25th. If you’ve more sway over your kids or you need to buy presents for godchildren or nieces and nephews check out my article on Sustainable Ethical Toys

Most of us use the same decorations every year, which is the epitome of sustainability so well done! If you ‘need’ (in apostrophes because let’s face it who ‘needs’ decorations) new decorations the most sustainable options is to first borrow from family or buy second-hand, and second buy locally-made decorations in natural materials like paper, wool, wood or wicker. If you’re at all crafty I have a few ideas for handmade low-waste Christmas decorations

Less and less of us are buying and sending Christmas cards, preferring instead to donate the money to charity, but if you like to send cards just make sure they’re printed on sustainably sourced (FSC certified) paper and free of glitter and foil, which are just forms of plastic that contaminate our waterways and us!

Wrapping Paper
The same is true of wrapping paper. There was a time when all wrapping paper was just that paper and easily recycled. Now we’ve foil wrapping paper, i.e. plastic and metal combined, and ones coated with glitter, i.e. Tiny, tiny pieces of plastic and metal. If you’re buying wrapping paper aim for 100% paper and if possible wrap using paper tape instead of sellotape, which isn’t recyclable.

Some people like to buy fabric bags or cloths to wrap presents in. This is a great idea if you know the recipient is going to reuse it or return it to you for reuse. Otherwise, it’s a very energy intensive material to use for this purpose. Our family use paper gift bags; they’re inexpensive, reusable and, depending on embellishments and coatings, fully recyclable at the end of their life.

For some wrapping inspiration check out my article on Christmas wrap eco-style

If you’re having a soirée this festive season you can lessen the impact by using proper crockery, glassware and utensils instead of disposables. Hire some, borrow from friends and family, or ask guests to bring along their own, and celebrate the mix-and-match look. If you must go with disposables avoid plastic-coated paper plates as these aren’t compostable and will need to go in the black bin. To avoid food waste send your guests home with some doggie bags.  Finally, make sure you provide a compost bin and explain to your guests that their plates, food waste and paper napkins should all go into it and not the recycling.

It goes without saying avoid straws completely and if that’s not feasible go for paper ones, which can be composted.

It’s very hard to avoid packaging and palm oil when it comes to processed food, particularly party food and nibbles. You can get package-free nuts in Zero Waste stores – see my map of eco-businesses, which are lovely sprinkled with salt or sugar and roasted in the oven. Alternatively popcorn dressed with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil or chilli flakes, or home made caramel is delicious.

Canapes can be a terrible fuss to make so being able to replace shop bought ones with homemade versions will all depend on your skills and schedule. My advice is to keep it simple and to aim to only do 2 or 3 types. I try to choose canapes where I can use the same ingredients in different combinations and ones that use ingredients that my family like to eat, that way we can consume any leftovers. For a list of canapé suggestions visit my article on Having a Merry Eco Party

The food waste at Christmas time in the overdeveloped world is criminal and yet so easy to avoid. In our house the only extra food we buy for Christmas is for dinner on the day and St Stephen’s Day and that typically amounts to ingredients for a fancy dessert, a turkey, a ham and vegetables. That’s it. It saves us a fortune, and we don’t have to go on a crash diet in January. Winner, winner, turkey and ham dinner.

It goes without saying that organic and/ or locally grown is far better for the planet and for you if you can afford it. Even if your budget only stretches to a few locally-grown and/or organic items it’s still worth making the switch.

Alcohol-Free: As far as I can tell fizzy drinks can only be bought in plastic bottles and if you need to have Coke Cola or 7-Up then it’s going to be impossible to avoid the plastic they come in. If your guests aren’t hung up on a brand perhaps you could make your own orange cordialfruit-infused water or lime & mint cordial, or fruity lemonades or simply mix tap water cordial bought in glass bottles. There are a few high-end cordial brands on the market now and readily available in most Supervalu stores, such as Longford based Richmount Cordials and Waterford based Naturally Cordial or the UK brand Belvoir offer a few organic options.

If fizzy drinks are an essential then another option might be to borrow a soda syphon or soda maker for the event. The air comes in recyclable and sometimes refillable canisters. From my research it seems that soda syphon don’t generate the same level of fizz as soda maker so bear this in mind when choosing.

Alcohol: Check out my article for Sustainable Alcohol Brands

Christmas Crackers
Traditional Christmas crackers are single-use and full of crap that most of us never use. You could just give them up completely, which we did one year but the kids really missed them, so I started making my own ones using kits from M&S that I bought on sale one year. I filled mine with objects collected from crackers used at family gatherings over the years (yes I am that kinda person!).  A even less wasteful option is to make your own crackers using leftover wrapping paper and ribbon or reusable Christmas crackers like those by Keep This

Do people still buy a Christmas outfit? Surely we all have enough in our wardrobes not to require a special outfit for the 25th. If you don’t and really need to get something then the most sustainable option is to borrow from friends and family or buy second-hand. A very distant third option is to buy fairly-made clothing in natural or compostable fibre clothing from Sustainable Ethical Retailers

Christmas jumpers are a great bit of fun as long as you don’t buy a new one. To avoid this consider organising a Christmas jumper swap between family and friends!

Have a wonderful yuletide!


Thanks for reading. You can find me on Facebook on Instagram between now and next Friday.

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

4 thoughts on “Have Yourself a Merry Sustainable Christmas (2020)

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